First Presbyterian Church started before Civil War

This February is becoming filled with 150 years of history surrounding First Presbyterian Church in Rochester. I wrote about this in my Saturday column last week and continue today. It will be a real lesson in history of the 1860s, when Sheldon Jackson, the New York Presbyterian minister, came to Rochester and helped start the church that today is at 512 Third St. St. S.W., Rochester.

Keep in mind the Civil War was soon to start, and enough families joined a group to get the church started.

Jackson felt it was his mission to start churches in southern Minnesota and co-pastored for three years, from 1864 to 1867, with the Rev. George Ainslee serving as the first preacher. I asked local history buff and church member John Kruesel just what he’ll tell the folks at the 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services on Feb. 20.

Kruesel says, "I want to show the children what a traveling circuit-riding preacher might have worn and the supplies he carried."

Sorry, kids. Kruesel can’t ride a horse into the church, but he’ll be wearing a buffalo coat, a peaked hat to shed rain, saddle bags, a collapsible candle lantern and a canteen, "all articles of the 19th century, including light devices, binoculars, a hatchet and a Bible," he says.


Kruesel has some stereo optic cards showing Jackson in Alaska with reindeer he got from Siberia. He was introducing the reindeer to the Inuit tribes there. Kruesel says he'll be able to show these scenes on a screen like early 3-D in a movie.

There are many local folks who played important roles at First Presbyterian Church over its 150 years. My old friend Ralph Spiekerman, a retired Mayo Clinic physician, joined the church in 1957, when he and wife Naomi came to town.

In 1966, Ralph Spiekerman headed the $50 million drive that helped start new churches, suffering churches and missionary work. He also moderated the Jackson Presbytery for a year in 1968.

Spiekerman explained to me that the Presbytery is the higher ruling body, owning the church and the land it’s on. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the Rev. Don McCall served 17 years as pastor, the church had 1,700 members. Today, there are about 800.

In their church, the elders are the ruling body and the deacons are the serving body, serving communion and at other church functions.

The official founding date of the church was Feb. 17,1861, so many events are formulating in the week ahead.

Musically, Lee Afdahl, organist, choir and hand bell choir director, has prepared special music for hand bells on the text of "The Church of Christ in Every Age."

A new pastor has just taken over worship leadership at First Presbyterian Church. Described as a storyteller, this young man from Pennsylvania is T.J. Parlette. His wife is Juliette.


My thanks to church historians Marcia Dollerschell and Marry Potter for sharing this history. If you’re interested in my doing a column for your church, make sure you include your telephone number. I don’t do e-mails, even though I receive them.

What To Read Next
Get Local